Taking care of family members with Alzheimer ’s Disease can be physically taxing, frustrating, and emotionally draining. According to the 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures of the Alzheimer’s Association one in eight people aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease (AD). It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and costs health care and businesses billions of dollars each year. The toll on the family of an AD member is costly not only financially, but in perhaps a more significant way--emotionally.
The Emotional Toll on the Caregiver
The 2009 report on Alzheimer’s disease estimates that 9.9 million Americans provide care for people with the disease; and 87 percent are relatives of the individual with Alzheimer’s. More than 40 percent of caregivers say that the emotional stress of caregiving is high or very high and about one-third have symptoms of depression.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association Report, one study of family care provided for people with dementia in the year before the person’s death found that 72 percent felt the stress was so great that they experienced relief when the person died.
Tips to Assist Family Members Responsible for Care of Persons with Alzheimer’s
Becoming the caretaker of adult family members is usually not an easy task even if the elderly member doesn't have Alzheimer's. As with any caretaking of the elderly, there are some common sense tips to keep in mind.
Get informed. It is helpful to know what a person is facing when tackling a new responsibility. For the caregiver of a person with AD; it is important to find out as much as possible about the disease. AD attacks the brain and the family member with AD will change in ways that may not be expected. Some people find it difficult to not take comments or behaviors personal. It will be important to be able to maintain a sense of separation from the way the AD used to be; to the person he or she has become. Understanding the disease will help to understand the changed family member; thus helping to reduce some of the potential stress.
Set Routines. Making things as predictable as possible will not only help the family member with AD; it will also help the person who is caregiving. Keeping to a routine can help reduce stress.
Stay Healthy. The caregiver’s health is extremely important. When a person is not feeling well physically, it can heighten the emotional toll and lower the level of tolerance. Get enough rest and ensure healthy eating habits to stay physically and mentally strong.
Back-up. Always have a plan B for when things don’t go quite as planned. A person may get the flu or have mechanical troubles with the car. This is when other family members or friends can be of assistance. Furthermore, there may be an unexpected emergency where the caretakers are unable to care for their family member for a period of time; a back-up plan is necessary.
Humor. Caregivers need to keep their senses of humor. Sometimes there is nothing else to do but laugh. Laughter is good medicine. If caregivers can find the humor in a situation; they probably can get the AD person to laugh with them.
Have Realistic Expectations. As the AD advances, the person will be unable to do more and more things he or she used to do. The caregiver helps to keep the AD persons as independent as possible by allowing them to do as much as they can. Stress on both parties is reduced when caregivers don’t expect the AD persons to complete the same task as they could in the past. If they get something wrong, it’s okay, no need to fuss at the AD persons.
Communication. Caregivers will need to communicate differently with AD persons. Reasoning with them is not an option. Saying “remember” is not effective because they can’t remember and it only adds more frustration for them. Saying “do what you can and I’ll help with the rest” is an often used phrase when coping with an AD person.
Take a Deep Breath. When all seems lost and the one nerve left is wearing thin, take a deep breath. Take a time out, a small break; caregivers need to take care of themselves too.
Support. The most important aspect of becoming a primary caregiver is to have a team of support around. When the family chooses to take care of a family member with AD; it is important to establish who will do what. The primary caregiver needs to have the support of other family mCredit: photo by Bill Honlembers, friends, doctors, and support groups. It is important to be able to express feelings that may include frustration, guilt, depression, and sadness.
Once the Alzheimer’s has advanced, a decision may have to be made whether or not to put the family member in a nursing home or assisted living facility. At this point, the family needs to make this decision together.
Alzheimer’s Association. 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s and Dementia: (5-3). 2009.
Broyles, Frank. Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers. China: 2006
Alz.org. “Living with Alzheimer’s.” (accessed March 4, 2010)
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